How to Improve Inpatient Discharge Process

Nurse Talking To Senior Couple In Hospital Room

Last week, I covered the many benefits of having a solid inpatient discharge process. It can benefit your hospital across departments, raise patient satisfaction and safety, and help your bottom line. So, what are some steps hospital leaders should take to improve their inpatient discharge process?

1. Examine Your Current Process

If you want to improve patient experience and sustain a culture of patient safety within your hospital, call for an examination of inpatient and emergency department discharge procedures.  Bring stakeholders — from both the ED and inpatient unit — to the table to ensure good communication. Open a dialogue about what’s working and what isn’t.

2. Set Up Clear, Consistent Communication

Communication — whether among staff, patients, family members or other caregivers, or outside health providers — is by far the most important component of discharge. Ensuring that communication is clear is paramount.

Here are a few benefits that result from patients receiving consistent instructions and information from staff regarding their diagnosis, treatment, medications, and follow-up care:

  • patients report a more favorable experience. satisfaction scores increase

  • readmissions and return visits to the emergency department drop — upwards of 30 percent, according to a study funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality   

3. Create a Staff Checklist and Patient Discharge Packet for Clear Communication

Two key components of the inpatient discharge process are a checklist for staff and discharge packet for patients. Remember, the discharge process begins as soon as the patient is admitted, not the day patients go home. Early utilization is key to a successful discharge.

While many resources are available for hospital leaders to use to create a discharge checklist and revamp their discharge process, AHRQ’s IDEAL Discharge Planning Overview, Process, and Checklist is a great place to start. Staff checklists should cover everything from the initial nursing assessment steps to action items designated for the day of discharge.

Creating discharge packets can help ensure that patients know how to care for themselves after leaving your hospital. Packets should include a few things and staff should go over these with patients:

  • medication information

  • self-care instructions, including how to recognize complications like infection or reactions to medication

  • resources for referrals and follow-up

  • information regarding whom the patient should contact if any problems, complications, or questions arise after discharge. Depending on the circumstances, this could be a primary care physician, specialist, counselor, or other healthcare professional.

Simply put, discharge packets can help patients have better outcomes and avoid readmission.

In everything you do, effective communication with patients and families should be your focus. Hospitals that follow AHRQ’s recommendations shouldn’t be surprised when patient outcomes are improved, readmissions drop, and patient satisfaction scores increase. (AHRQ also provides this valuable tool for hospitals interested in “re-engineering” their discharge process.)  

If you’re a hospital leader looking to retool your inpatient discharge procedures and you’d like some personalized feedback, feel free to drop me a line. I’d love to schedule a complimentary phone consultation to discuss with you what steps you can take to improve this critical component of the patient experience.


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: IDEAL Discharge Planning Overview, Process, and Checklist

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Preventing Avoidable Readmission